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Working with others

What can we learn about working with others from the debate on gay bishops?

Rowan Williams handled John Humphrys well last Friday (Today, Radio 4), expressing clearly that “on a major issue of this kind the Church has to make a decision together.”  When pressed on his personal view, Dr Williams declined to give soundbites but referred Humphrys to what is already in print.  Inevitably the proposal was put to the archbishop that it is hypocritical to hold a position which is at odds with that of the church of which he is head.

In defence, he drew a distinction between himself as an individual, who seeks to influence those he teaches and pastors, and himself as leader, committed to unity and a consensual position.  As Mary Ann Sieghart (The Times, 18.10.03) wrote: "Dr Williams accepts the integrity of the conservatives’ position, even if personally he does not agree with them.  It is his respect for their views and willingness to engage with them that made the two-day Primates’ meeting rather more of a success than many had expected. … It was quite a feat for the Archbishop to persuade his fellow Primates to spend the first day … examining the value they put on preserving the Communion.  He made them acknowledge that homosexuality was a second-order question for the Church.”

Second-order perhaps because Jesus prayed that those who believe in him “may all be one.  As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, … so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23).  It is the unity of the body of believers that bears witness to the nature of God and to his love for each of us, not the correctness of the Church's stance on homosexuality.

And Paul wrote: “I beg you to … mak[e] every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. … until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph 4:1-3, 13).  So within the church the ‘unity of the Spirit’ already exists - and we are called to bust a gut to maintain it - but unity in what we believe and know may be some time coming!

For me, certain principles emerge:

* A Godly process is as important as a Godly outcome.
* Know which is the most important ball to keep your eye on.
* The shared wisdom of the group will be better than my own, and even that will be imperfect in this age.
* As I grasp God's love for me, my need to be right at all cost will diminish.

May these permeate our dealings with every human person so that “Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness” (Eph 4:4-6, The Message).

Yours in Christ

Peter Nicholls

“It is his respect for their views and willingness to engage with them that made the two-day Primates’ meeting rather more of a success than many had expected.”

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